CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The nation’s newest weather satellite, launched less than three months ago, has a serious cooling problem that could affect the quality of its pictures.
The trouble is with the GOES-17 satellite’s premier instrument for taking images of hurricanes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions and other natural calamities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday. The imager’s infrared sensors aren’t getting properly cooled.
Experts are scrambling to understand what went wrong and how to fix it. Officials expect it will take at least a few months to figure out.
“As you can imagine, doing this remotely from 22,000 miles below only looking at the on-orbit data is a challenge,” said Steve Volz, head of NOAA’s satellite and information service.
Volz told reporters the trouble was discovered three weeks ago during the satellite’s routine checkout in orbit. The satellite was launched by NASA on March 1 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“This is a serious problem,” Volz said. The infrared channels “are important elements of our observing requirement, and if they are not functioning fully, it is a loss.”
The problem is with 13 of the 14 channels in the infrared and near infrared, which are meant to operate at around minus 350 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 200 degrees Celsius). The imager’s cooling system — which uses propolyne — is not maintaining that frigid temperature during the warmer part of each orbit, and so the channels aren’t working well about half the time.
From the mission page:
MAY 23, 2018: SCIENTISTS INVESTIGATE GOES-17 ADVANCED BASELINE IMAGER PERFORMANCE ISSUE
The GOES-R Program is currently addressing a performance issue with the cooling system encountered during commissioning of the GOES-17 Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument. The cooling system is an integral part of the ABI and did not start up properly during the on-orbit checkout.
A team of experts from NOAA, NASA, the ABI contractor team and industry are investigating the issue and pursuing multiple courses of possible corrective actions. The issue affects the infrared and near-infrared channels on the instrument. The visible channels of the ABI are not impacted.
NOAA’s operational geostationary constellation — GOES-16, operating as GOES-East, GOES-15, operating as GOES-West and GOES-14, operating as the on-orbit spare — is healthy and monitoring weather across the nation each day, so there is no immediate impact from this performance issue.
If efforts to restore the cooling system are unsuccessful, alternative concepts and modes will be considered to maximize the operational utility of the ABI for NOAA’s National Weather Service and other customers. An update will be provided as new information becomes available.
I’m pretty sure somebody somewhere will figure out a way to blame ‘climate change’ for this. – Anthony